New Program Helps Syrian Refugee Women Get Behind the Wheel

“We’re trying to start a new life, start a new future here,” said Raghad Aldabbagh

Learning to drive may seem like a simple skill you pick up in high school, but for the hundreds of refugee families in San Diego, transportation is one of the biggest challenges they face, as they try to thrive in their new home country.

A new program, called Women at the Wheel, is focused on getting Syrian refugee women behind the wheel. The program is organized by the non-profit, Syrian Community Network.

“I need to learn to drive because I have children who go to school,” said Abir Aldabbagh, a mother of four living in El Cajon.

Abir has been taking driver training courses, but she’s still a little nervous behind the wheel. Like any mother, she’s determined to make sure her four children get to school.

“Yes. Many schools, in different areas,” Abir Aldabbagh said.

Abir moved to El Cajon a year ago. She became a refugee after her home near Syria’s capital was destroyed in the war.

Women at the Wheel is trying to empower refugee women like Abir, who have settled in San Diego County.

“We were able to fund about 50 women to participate in our program. But our waiting list is nearly a hundred women,” said Lida Dianti, Communications Manager at the Syrian Community Network.

One of the young women hoping to go through the program is Abir’s daughter Raghad.

“I’m now going to City College to continue my education. I want to become a doctor in the future,” said Raghad Aldabbagh, a 19-year-old refugee.

Raghad’s talent is obvious. She recently graduated as valedictorian at Urban Corps Charter School. But commuting from El Cajon to downtown San Diego can be an excruciating commute without a car.

“I take the trolley or the bus. Sometimes the trolley breaks, so I’ll be late for class, or sometimes the bus doesn’t run at night,” said Raghad Aldabbagh.

The families transportation problems may seem small compared to what they dealt with in Syria, but it’s the small things that will keep their drive for the American dream moving.

“We’re trying to start a new life, start a new future here,” said Raghad Aldabbagh.

The Syrian Community Network has set up a crowdfunding website for people who are interested in donating to the Women at the Wheel campaign.

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